Shaq agrees to join Celtics, a smart gamble by both sides

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Thumbnail image for shaq_o'neal.jpgIs it going to work? Maybe. Maybe not.

But it’s going to happen — Shaquille O’Neal has agreed to join the Boston Celtics according to CSN New England, ESPN’s Chris Brossard and a bunch of other sources now. This will be a one-year deal for the league minimum of $1.4 million.

Is it a good signing? Time will tell, but there are risks. Risks in terms of injuries, risks in terms of locker room chemistry, risks in terms of reputation. But risks both sides needed to take.

Shaq 2010 is not Shaq 2000. He cannot single handedly lead a team to a title (Kobe Bryant would like to point out that he couldn’t do that in 2000 either). His game is in decline, something evident the past few seasons, particularly in Cleveland last year. As Zach Lowe at Celtics Hub points out, the Cavaliers actually did better with him off the court than on it last season.

But Shaq and Jermaine O’Neal (who will start at center for Boston, at least until Kendrick Perkins returns) bring a new dimension to the Celtics — scoring from the five spot. It’s a reason Doc Rivers led the effort to get Shaq in green. Perkins was out there to defend and rebound, the other four guys on the floor had to provide the offense. Which worked very well in 2008. But last year the Celtics offense became heavily dependant on Rajon Rondo penetration to get points inside. Shaq, for all his flaws, is still able to score from the block.

Shaq is going to be a help through the All-Star break, although as Lowe points out who he plays with in the frontcourt off the bench will be interesting. Shaq and Big Baby Glen Davis may be the most obvious but it is an odd pairing. Remember, Davis was nicknamed “baby Shaq” at LSU (the college the two shared) because of a somewhat similar game. And look.

Davis and Shaq bring a lot of the same things to the floor, it’s hard to see them as a natural pairing. Kevin Garnett would be, but he will play more starters minutes and lineups.

How Shaq fits in on defense is another question. His defensive rotations are not great, and he can be exposed if forced to cover the high pick-and-roll. Boston has made its name on defense.

All that said, both sides really need each other. It’s a risk, but a risk worth taking.

Boston needed depth up front and some scoring from the five spot. Shaq may be able to give them that. Shaq needs to win again; he wants a chance at a ring for the thumb. Boston can give him that. Both are older, both need to stay healthy — or at least be healthy come playoff time — to have a chance.

If everything breaks right, it’s a gamble that could pay off. Could. But both sides needed to take the risk.

Report: Nerlens Noel hires Rich Paul as agent, looking for big deal from Mavericks

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It’s been a rough year for restricted free agents (and plenty of unrestricted ones). After NBA teams spent like drunken sailors on shore leave last summer, this time around — with the cap not rising as much as had been expected — the market got tight quickly, and few questionable contracts were handed out. A year ago the Brooklyn Nets were making the Miami Heat pay big to retain Tyler Johnson and the Trail Blazers pay big to keep Allen Crabbe. This year teams were not biting the same way on restricted free agents.

Which left guys like Nerlens Noel, who expected to be maxed out by the Mavericks (or someone), still looking for a deal. Noel was frustrated enough to switch agents, picking up Rich Paul of Klutch Sports, according to Michael Scotto of Basketball Insiders.

Paul is LeBron James‘ agent, and in recent years has done well getting Tristan Thompson and Eric Bledsoe good contracts as extensions to their rookie deals. In both cases, he showed a fearlessness in holding out longer and being willing to push the envelope. That had to appeal to Noel.

But it doesn’t change the underlying dynamics at play — and not just with Noel. Paul also represents restricted free agents this summer Shabazz Muhammad — who has yet to sign a deal — and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who had to take a one-year deal with the Lakers for $18 million (well below his max). Throw in Noel’s injury history, and teams were not eager to jump in with a big offer for the athletic big man.

At this point, no team has the money to offer Noel a max contract right now — the Bulls have the most available money at $17.3 million, the Sixers and Suns have about $15 million and $14 million. Noel’s max is $24.7 million a year. Dallas is playing hardball because they can — without another offer on the table, Noel’s only real threat is to sign the qualifying offer (about $6 million) and play the season for that, then become an unrestricted free agent next summer. That’s possible, but a guy with Noe’s history of injuries may want to be careful betting on himself like that.

With Paul in the negotiations, expect them to drag out. That’s about the only sure thing.

Remembering Notre Dame, Laker legend Tommy “the hawk” Hawkins

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Tommy Hawkins passed away recently at the age of 80.

The former NBA player was the first black athlete to earn All-America honors in basketball at Notre Dame (he still holds the school’s total rebounds record), was drafted in the first round, and went on to have a 10-year NBA career playing for the Minneapolis/Los Angeles Lakers as well as the Cincinnati Royals. Los Angeles fans may also remember him as the long time director of communications for the Los Angeles Dodgers after his playing days ended.

The NBA put together this well done video look back at Hawkins’ career.

Celtics’ Brad Stevens said early September tests will show if Thomas ready for camp

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Isaiah Thomas said he expects to be ready for the Celtics’ training camp next month. The guard’s All-NBA season came to an early end in the playoffs when he aggravated a labral tear in his right hip initially suffered back in March. At least the injury did not require surgery.

Players are also about the worst judges of when they will recover from an injury. They pretty much all think they are invincible and will be healthy faster than doctors predict.

Coaches tend to be more pragmatic. Take Boston’s Brad Stevens, who told Chris Mannix on The Vertical Podcast that tests in a couple of weeks will show if Thomas is ready for camp.

“He has another follow-up and another scan in the early part of September. Obviously, it’s been a lot of appropriate rest, a lot of rehab. There have been some good strides here certainly in the last month or few weeks, but we’re not going to know that until after that early September timeframe.”

The Celtics are understandably going to be cautious with Thomas, while Thomas wants to prove he is healthy and has no ill effects from the injury as he enters a contract year (one where he expects to get PAID). Also, the Celtics could use him in camp as they start to figure out how he and Gordon Hayward can share playmaking duties.

Still, from the outset, the timelines have suggested he should be ready for camp in late September. Coaches are just cautious on these things by nature.

Allen Iverson predicts LeBron James will win MVP

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LeBron James has four NBA MVP trophies in his case. (Does he keep that case in his home in Akron or the one in Los Angeles… that’s a question for another day.) Only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (six) and Michael Jordan (five) have more.

Could LeBron James add a fifth to his case this season?

Allen Iverson said yes at last weekend’s Big3 playoffs in Seattle.

LeBron was fourth in preseason odds to win the MVP at 15/2, behind Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, and Kawhi Leonard.

To me, LeBron could be a good bet. If/when Kyrie Irving is traded, the chances of LeBron getting the MVP go up. If LeBron puts up impressive numbers (again) and leads a depleted Cavaliers team to a top two seed in the East, he is certainly going to be in consideration. And should be.

It’s a long season, and personally, I think you need to get midway through the season before seriously considering the year-end awards. But history says LeBron will be in the mix, and Allen Iverson could be proven prophetic.